“And now as I said concerning faith…faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true”
(Alma, 32:21, Book of Mormon)
I was 18 years old.
I had been brought up as a member of the Mormon church from about the age of three. Sundays were spent in Church from 10:30 in the morning until 1:30 in the afternoon. Monday evenings were dedicated to family home evening…which is exactly what it sounds like. Tuesday evenings from the age of twelve through eighteen were spent at Church participating in the youth program of the Church. One or two Fridays a month would see me travelling from my home in Fife to Dundee for a regional youth activity of some sort or other…usually something religious followed by a disco. One or two nights a month I would go out with my dad to visit some families from our local branch of the Church, share a spiritual message with them and offer help with anything they thought we could do for them.
It was my life.
I never felt resentful of the time I was spending at Church.
I didn’t mind being the only Mormon in my school.
I never doubted.
I liked it.
It was just the way things were.
I never asked questions.
I never explored or investigated what I was taught.
When boys turn eighteen in the Church they are encouraged to serve a mission. That involves giving up two years of your life to go and share the teachings of the Church with other people and invite them to be baptised. You could find yourself sent anywhere in the world…I had friends who went to New Zealand, America, the Caribbean and throughout Europe.
Specifically the England London Mission.
That covered most of London itself and a fair chunk of Essex and East Anglia.
It is a tough shift.
You work in pairs and you rarely leave the side of your companion…often the only time you are not in the same room is when one of you is in the toilet.
No ‘phone calls home save for Mothers Day and Christmas Day…and then only to your family.
One day a week turned over, at least in part, to letter writing and taking care of things like laundry and grocery shopping and, if there is time, a “fun” activity…but never the cinema or any other “worldly” thing.
No music other than Church hymns or classical.
No reading material that isn’t Church related.
There was a whole book of rules.
I approached this with genuine enthusiasm.
As I said…this was my life.
The first place I was sent was Bury St. Edmunds.
A pretty and none more English town in Suffolk.
I was there for about two months with an American kid called Gavin Grow.
Within about fifteen minutes of getting started on mission life I hated it.
I hated every single moment of it.
I hated being with a stranger for 24 hours a day.
I hated being away from my family.
I hated the monotony of the role.
I hated not being able to listen to music.
I hated knocking on strangers doors and having those doors slammed in my face.
I hated the fact that it was two weeks from Christmas and it was cold…really cold.
I hated having to be up and out of bed at six-thirty in the morning and having a compulsory lights out bedtime of ten at night.
I felt a misery more real and more terrifying than anything else I had experienced in my life up to that point.
After those first couple of months I was moved on to another area and another companion.
Two months later…moved on again.
By this point I was genuinely growing concerned about my mental health…I knew that something was wrong with me but I didn’t know what it was or what I could do about it.
Then I was moved to Great Yarmouth…a faded, seaside town on the East coast of England.
I cannot now remember the name of the missionary I lived with their.
He was American.
He was as unhappy with the situation as I was but had decided that he had to stick it out for fear of bringing shame on his family by returning home early.
My deteriorating mental health was brought into sharp focus here when I found the head and torso of a mannequin in the street one day and brought it back to our digs with me. I dressed it in a Cure t-shirt and gave it a name…Hattie, after the “Carry On…” star Hattie Jacques…and carted her around with me at almost every opportunity; posing with her for photographs at various tourist attractions in the town.
We lived in the upstairs bedroom of an elderly lady.
To get to our quarters we had to go through her sitting room.
Occasionally her family would be there…talking, laughing, eating, watching television…and I would feel a near overpowering urge to walk back out of the house and head for the train station and try to wend my way back to Fife.
Most eighteen year olds try very hard to get as far away from Fife as they can.
After a long, fruitless, day of knocking on the doors of strangers my companion and I returned home to find our landlady in the kitchen and her teenage granddaughter sitting in the lounge watching M.T.V.
My companion started to climb the stairs to our room to ready himself for our evening scripture study but I hesitated at the foot of the stairs. My eyes were fixed on the screen. I hadn’t heard any pop music in about six months.
A bass line.
Some crashing guitars.
“I’ll be your saint…I’ll wear a halo…I’ll perform miracles…if you want me to stoop that low.”
The text on the screen told me that this was Adorable and that the song was “I’ll be Your Saint”.
The official name of the Mormon church is…The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
I was there as a Saint.
I could lead people to miracles…if either of us had enough faith.
Suddenly I realised that I really didn’t have any faith.
I had no idea why I was where I was.
I also realised that nothing that had happened to me in the previous six months had made me as happy as this.
It was time to pack my bags and head for home.